Horizontal locomotion of a vertically flapping oblate spheroid

09 Mar 2018

We consider the self-induced motions of three-dimensional oblate spheroids of density $\unicode[STIX]{x1D70C}_{s}$ with varying aspect ratios $AR=b/c\leqslant 1$, where $b$ and $c$ are the spheroids’ centre-pole radius and centre-equator radius, respectively. Vertical motion is imposed on the spheroids such that $y_{s}(t)=A\sin (2\unicode[STIX]{x03C0}ft)$ in a fluid of density $\unicode[STIX]{x1D70C}$ and kinematic viscosity $\unicode[STIX]{x1D708}$. As in strictly two-dimensional flows, above a critical value $Re_{C}$ of the flapping Reynolds number $Re_{A}=2Afc/\unicode[STIX]{x1D708}$, the spheroid ultimately propels itself horizontally as a result of fluid–body interactions. For $Re_{A}$ sufficiently above $Re_{C}$, the spheroid rapidly settles into a terminal state of constant, unidirectional velocity, consistent with the prediction of Deng et al. (Phys. Rev. E, vol. 94, 2016, 033107) that, at sufficiently high $Re_{A}$, such oscillating spheroids manifest $m=1$ asymmetric flow, with characteristic vortical structures conducive to providing unidirectional thrust if the spheroid is free to move horizontally. The speed $U$ of propagation increases linearly with the flapping frequency, resulting in a constant Strouhal number $St(AR)=2Af/U$, characterising the locomotive performance of the oblate spheroid, somewhat larger than the equivalent $St$ for two-dimensional spheroids, demonstrating that the three-dimensional flow is less efficient at driving locomotion. $St$ decreases with increasing aspect ratio for both two-dimensional and three-dimensional flows, although the relative disparity (and hence relative inefficiency of three-dimensional motion) decreases. For flows with $Re_{A}\gtrsim Re_{C}$, we observe two distinct types of inherently three-dimensional motion for different aspect ratios. The first, associated with a disk of aspect ratio $AR=0.1$ at $Re_{A}=45$, consists of a ‘stair-step’ trajectory. This trajectory can be understood through consideration of relatively high azimuthal wavenumber instabilities of interacting vortex rings, characterised by in-phase vortical structures above and below an oscillating spheroid, recently calculated using Floquet analysis by Deng et al. (Phys. Rev. E, vol. 94, 2016, 033107). Such ‘in-phase’ instabilities arise in a relatively narrow band of $Re_{A}\gtrsim Re_{C}$, which band shifts to higher Reynolds number as the aspect ratio increases. (Indeed, for horizontally fixed spheroids with aspect ratio $AR=0.2$, Floquet analysis actually predicts stability at $Re_{A}=45$.) For such a spheroid ($AR=0.2$, $Re_{A}=45$, with sufficiently small mass ratio $m_{s}/m_{f}=\unicode[STIX]{x1D70C}_{s}V_{s}/(\unicode[STIX]{x1D70C}V_{s})$, where $V_{s}$ is the volume of the spheroid) which is free to move horizontally, the second type of three-dimensional motion is observed, initially taking the form of a ‘snaking’ trajectory with long quasi-periodic sweeping oscillations before locking into an approximately elliptical ‘orbit’, apparently manifesting a three-dimensional generalisation of the $QP_{H}$ quasi-periodic symmetry breaking discussed for sufficiently high aspect ratio two-dimensional elliptical foils in Deng & Caulfield (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 787, 2016, pp. 16–49).